I’m an occasional visitor to the local Socrate’s Cafe discussion group. Most of the time it frustrates me. It’s predominantly a white, middle-class group that never wants to talk about business or personal experiences with culture. The talk always returns to politics - usually national. And vague reifications about this culture does x, when it should be doing y.
Business is one of my ongoing obsessions that I wish more people would think about in a serious way. But public discussions focus on politics and commercial culture instead of the everyday organizational forms in which we all spend most of our days.
I was reading a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace which reminded me of the old adage that the fish never knows its swimming in water.
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and
frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible – sounds like “displayal”]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
A scene from Brazil sums it up nicely.